'Disturbingly Informative' - A SUMR Trip to the Mütter Museum

SUMR Blog

'Disturbingly Informative' - A SUMR Trip to the Mütter Museum

2018 SUMR and Karabots Academic Pipeline Programs Come Together for a Day
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For the seventh year, the University of Pennsylvania's LDI Summer Undergraduate Minority Research (SUMR) scholars and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia's Karabots Junior Fellows met for a day to discuss issues of common interest and tour the famed Mütter Museum that bills itself as a "Disturbingly Informative" experience. The SUMR scholars are college undergrads and the Karabots are high school students. Both pipeline programs are aimed at underrepresented minority students and others interested in pursuing studies and exploring career-related experiences in the health care field. Now in its 19th year, Penn's SUMR program is sponsored by LDI and the Wharton School Health Care Management Department. This trip to the College of Physicians was the 2018 SUMR cohort's last outing together. Click image for larger
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The country's oldest medical society, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (above, left) is a private professional organization for the ongoing professional education and development of physicians. It also contains the 160-year-old Mütter Museum whose sprawling collection of 19th-century anatomical specimens and medical oddities make it one of the region's most unique tourist attractions. Along with their other activities, Karabots junior scholars learn medical history and act as Mütter docents for visitors. Above, right, in the College lobby are SUMR Program Director Joanne Levy, SUMR Program Coordinator Safa Browne and SUMR Scholars Audrey Fretzin and Tania Calle. The skeleton photo is of a 7-foot, six-inch male believed to be North America's tallest skeleton (the real thing is on display in the museum); the portrait by Thomas Eakins is of William Thomson, MD, a famed 19th-century Philadelphia eye surgeon.
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At the foot of the Mütter Museum's main stairway (above, left) is a glass-topped miniature ossuary (above, right), or human bone repository. The practice dates to earlier European times when bodies were buried until their soft tissue rotted away and were then disinterred, cleaned and permanently stored in a more compact way. The procedure was a solution to inadequate cemetery space in densely-crowded cities. The largest known ossuary is the Catacombs of Paris that contain the tightly-packed bones of more than six million people.
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Probably the most iconic visual at the Mütter is the Hyrtl Skull Collection (above, left) that stretches floor-to-ceiling across an entire wall. Assembled in the early 1800s by Dr. Joseph Hyrtl, it includes the skulls of central and eastern European males who committed suicide or were executed as criminals. Exploring the display are SUMR Scholars Nahnsan Guseh, Sergio Chairez and Audrey Fretzin. Above, right, before a tall case displaying skeletons of both a giant and a dwarf are Karabots Junior Fellows Rayanna Russell of Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School, Robert Melton of John Bartram High School, Daisy Hernandez of Universal Audenried Charter High School, and SUMR Program Director Joanne Levy.
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The current Mütter Museum's marketing slogan "Disturbingly Informative" is quite accurate. A century and a half ago, most of its displays formed a kind of three-dimensional textbook that medical students could walk through to learn about the then-known diseases and often-horrific human deformities. SUMR Scholar Tania Calle examines a skin disease display and specimen (above, left). Above, right is a wax sculpture of disease symptoms that manifest on the tongue. Looking through the case is Karabots Junior Fellow Cliford Louis of the Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory School.
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Manning the shrunken head display are Karabots Junior Fellows Cliford Louis and Abdol-Samad Ali of Boys Latin of Philadelphia Charter School (above, right). The heads were collected from South American tribes in the late 19th century and sold as souvenirs. Years ago, the Mütter was involved in a study of the authenticity of the macabre collectibles.
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Born in 1933, Harry Raymond Eastlack lived for 40 years with the rare disease fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP) that turns a body's muscles and tendons into bone. Before he died in 1973, he willed his heavily fused skeleton to science. Examining it (above, left) are SUMR Scholars Chidinma Wilson, Wharton SPUR Scholar Sydney Bell and SUMR Scholar Tolu Omole. Above, right, one of the most bizarre exhibits in the museum is a nine-foot long colon that contained 40 pounds of fecal matter when it was removed from an enormously obese circus sideshow performer in the 19th century. The cause was congenital aganglionic megacolon, or Hirschsprung's disease. Staring in disbelief are SUMR Scholars Omole and Alec Hilton, and SPUR Scholar Bell.
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Dug up in Philadelphia in 1875, this poor woman's body fat (above, left) had turned into the soap-like substance adipocere, probably as a result of certain kinds of anaerobic bacteria being present in constantly moist and heavily alkaline soil. Reading the technical details of the "Soap Lady" (above, right) are SUMR Scholars Khalida Saalim, Audrey Fretzin and Mohamed Abdirisak.
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An unexpected gallery of the Mütter is devoted to battlefield injuries, medical treatments and mortuary practices of the Union Army during the Civil War. The need to educate large numbers of medics to deal with huge numbers of wounds caused the military to create traveling exhibits of actual bones and bullets taken from the bodies of dead soldiers. These (above, left) show (red arrows) wounds in an arm bone, skull and leg bone. Above, right, SUMR Scholar Khalida Saalim views an enlarged Civil War poster recruiting African Americans for the newly-created Union Army Colored Troops units.
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Struck deaf and blind at the age of two by scarlet fever in 1831, Laura Dewey Bridgman (above, right) became a celebrity as the first child of her condition to develop comprehensive English language communication skills -- something that, half a century later, would earn Helen Keller even more fame. Bridgman was a woman of severe disability but high intelligence and, after her death in 1889, doctors of that era sought to learn something from the study of the physical shape and volume of her brain. Explaining that plaster cast (above, left) are Karabots Junior Fellows Tiffany Harris of Freire Charter School and Rawan Zalzala of Philadelphia High School for Girls. Listening is SUMR Program Coordinator Safa Browne.
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Beyond the museum tour, SUMR Scholars and Karabots Junior Fellows spent a good deal of time in the College of Physicians conference room sharing pizza (above, left) and discussing their educational aspirations, questions and experiences. Above, right, engaged in the conversation are Karabots Junior Fellows Annamaria (Bella) Nastasi of the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, and Cliford Louis and Lamina Diakho both of the Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory School.
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Explaining the SUMR program to the group is SUMR Scholar Tolu Omole (above, left). Explaining the Karabots program is Junior Fellow Imani Pettyjohn of Strawberry Mansion High School.
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Above,left in discussion are Karabots Junior Fellows Martha Victoria of George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science, and Jamie Yuen of Central High School. Elsewhere around the table (above, right) were SUMR Scholar Audrey Fretzin, Karabots Junior Fellow Daisy Hernandez of Universal Audenried Charter High School and SUMR Scholar Ayomide Ojebuoboh.
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The 2018 cohorts of the Penn SUMR program and College of Physicians' Karabots program gathered for a photo op on the College's main staircase.